Ukrainian naval drones hit a key bridge linking Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, killing a couple and seriously injuring their daughter, the Kremlin said Monday.
The bridge, a symbolic and strategically important piece of infrastructure that President Vladimir Putin himself opened in 2018, connects road and rail traffic from Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014.
Pictures from The Associated Press and others showed that part of the roadbed had fallen away, with warped metal girders hanging down toward the water.
Russian officials said the bridge was hit by blasts from two Ukrainian “unmanned naval surface vehicles,” the National Antiterrorism Committee said in a statement, adding that it had opened an investigation into what it called a “terrorist act.”
A man and a woman driving along the bridge were killed and their daughter was seriously injured, it said.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said at a daily briefing that Russia knew “the reasons” behind “this terrorist act” but did not elaborate further. Both he and the country’s foreign ministry made suggestions about Western involvement in the incident, a common talking point in Moscow, without providing evidence.
“If the Western origin of the naval surface drones that attacked the bridge — as well as the role of Western countries in planning, sponsoring and carrying out this operation — is revealed, this will confirm their complicity in the terrorist activities of the Kyiv regime,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Putin is set to hold a televised meeting about the bridge on Monday evening. Russian officials did not provide evidence of their claims of responsibility.
Ukraine’s public broadcaster, Suspilne, cited multiple anonymous law enforcement sources as saying the bridge explosion was the result of a special operation by Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency and its navy. NBC News has not confirmed the reports.
Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesperson, Andriy Yusov, declined to comment on whether Ukraine was involved. Speaking with Suspilne, he noted only that “any logistical problems are additional complications for the occupiers” — meaning Russia.
Earlier, Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern command, suggested Russia could be behind the attack.
“Given the unprecedented security measures that the Russians have been taking for a long time around the Crimean bridge, they most likely controlled this entire situation and it continues to unfold according to the script programmed by them,” she told Suspilne.
In October, Russia blamed Ukraine for another explosion that damaged the bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge. Ukraine admitted only indirectly to the attack months later.
Monday’s explosions happened at 3:04 a.m. (8:04 p.m. ET Sunday) and 3:20 a.m., according to the Grey Zone, a channel on the messaging app Telegram affiliated with Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, according to Reuters.
Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the Russia-installed Crimean parliament, said in a statement posted on Telegram that the railroad section of the bridge, which is crucial for Russian military logistics, had not been damaged in the blasts.
“Kyiv could not help but know that the automobile part of the crossing is a purely civilian facility,” he said. “But that has never stopped the terrorists. It won’t stop [them] in the future.”
He added that “regarding the retribution,” the Russian Defense Ministry “has promised strikes against the centers where the criminal decisions are made,” he said.
The incident also fired up some of the Kremlin’s most hawkish propagandists.
Margarita Simonyan, the head of the Russian state broadcaster RT, suggested that if “British intelligence” was behind the attack — something for which she did not provide evidence — then London’s Tower Bridge would “absolutely” be a legitimate target.
And Vladimir Solovyov, one of the most prolific and outspoken pro-Kremlin voices on Russian state TV, suggested his country should hit back by bombing Ukraine’s parliament building and turning the office of its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, into a “crater.”
Yuliya Talmazan, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed.